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Do You Think Citzen Kane Was The Greatest Film Ever Made?


ERROL23
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I'm going to take advantage of that question to vent about something.

 

Why do people always want to have one thing, name the best, greatest, favourite, be it a film, a book, or a song. For me, there's no such thing as one "greatest" of anything. These things are too complex to be categorized like that. There are too many factors, too many variables, that go into the making of a film (or album of music, painting, whatever) to elevate one to the title of "greatest".

I think it's just a human trait (especially an American trait); people want to have lists, they want to have some kind of ultimate "best", whatever the art form. Whenever the subject of one single favourite comes up on these boards (could be favourite director, favourite actor or actress, comedy, musical, whatever) , I often wonder how people can have one favourite, or think there is one best film ever. It's impossible to make such a decision.

 

Having said all that, I'm thinking that perhaps you just wanted to generate some discussion of *Citizen Kane* and thought that was a good way to open it up. In that case, I certainly over-reacted.

 

By the way, I do like *Citizen Kane* very much. It is probably not one of my "favourite" movies of all time, nor would I say it's the "best" of all time. But then, I wouldn't give that title to any one film.

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Excellent post, misswonderly. It's all so subjective and our personal tastes change as we get older.

 

It seems unrealistic to make one film the most important standout picture of all time. I don't think such a thing exists. There is no such thing as a perfect film. There is, however, a film that makes us feel something at the time we see it, a film that may stay with us for a long time that we wish to see often. That could be based on emotional criteria or on an admiration of the artistry that went into producing it.

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*Citizen Kane* was a very innovative film, and one of the most influential films there is. It is a great film. But, I don't even believe it was Welles' best film. That, IMO, was *Touch of Evil*, and many Welles scholars agree with that.

 

As to the larger point, I think it is absurd to try and label any one film "The greatest ever made," but many do apply such labels.

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There's an episode of The Dick Cavett Show that TCM airs from time to time with Alfred Hitchcock as the guest. At one point during the interview, Cavett asks Hitch his thoughts about Welles, and you can tell it hits a nerve. Hitch says something like 'well, of course, he did make one good film.' It was probably meant as a compliment and a jab. I am sure that Hitchcock and other directors got tired of having their work compared to CITIZEN KANE. If we say that the best film that ever could be made was made in 1941, then it's all pretty much downhill from there...doesn't matter if you are Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Steven Spielberg, or any other future director yet to make her mark.

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KANE is the finest and most creative American film, out of Hollywood, from the 20th Century. This is a fact there is no way around. Why? Because it dared go into areas that no other filmmaker at the time would think of attempting. Also, it's the greatest debut of a filmmaker in the history of American motion pictures. Remember, Orson had no real, solid previous film experience; none whatsoever! What he did that was so remarkable was to bring around him people who had all sorts of new and never tried ideas. Orson simply listen to anyone who might excite his curiousity and therefore expand upon what was already in the planning stages.The only major controversy surrounding Kane has been whether or not Orson really contributed to the script. There's been so much hearsay and rumors about a clash between Orson and the original writer of the story, legendary Herman J. Mankiewicz. The whole idea to make the film was always Herman's and then Orson jumped on board to put it all together. As to what Orson may have contribted or rewritten has never been made clear. What we do know is that much of the original treatment as written by Herman was employed by Orson and then came all of those bag-of-tricks Orson and his associates created in order to make what at first might have been a deep-darken melodrama, into something sensational.

 

What we have here is a film that is an artistic statement beyond anything else ever coming out of Hollywood at the time. While there have always been great films to consider from the classic age of Hollywood, most are simply entertaining and not so daring along an artistic point of thinking. There is to pure art, an unconventional format and style that Kane has written all over it. It's this sort of determined outlook to stay out of the mainstream of common thought and all its trappings. Kane is in all counts a true piece of art that takes on a whole new definition of the movies and what they have come to represent. What probably makes Kane considered the greatest movie ever made in America is its plain and outright influence. It is without any question, the most copied, studied, revered American motion picture of its time and will continue making heads turn and fresh new minds think beyond anything so entertaining.

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When the French elevated Citizen Kane I would say it had less to do with it being the "BIG NO. 1, unquestionable, all time masterpiece" and more to do with an ideal; this film embodies what we want the cinema to be. In the late 50s, Cahiers du Cinema named Mr. Arkadin, a Welles film the average film goer would likely have a tough time with, one of the 12 best films of all time...those critics would soon start making their own films...Arkadin isn't usually considered among Welles' best films (I myself like it very much) but placing it on a list the way those young critics did could/should be understood more as a statement, a way to promote their ideal vision of the cinema.

 

Citizen Kane is seen as a significant moment in film modernism. The late 30s is considered the maturation of the sound film, the perfection of classical form. In the 1940s, we begin to see a shift away from this. Kane is often fingered as the break-point; there had been examples of this before (Renoir, Ford, Wyler) but not with the mastery and clarity of expression and intent. In the 1940s, Andre Bazin wrote his influential theories on film. He rejected montage, a manipulation of space and POV, in favor of the long take and deep focus (sound familiar?,) elements that he believed created a purity of image and maintained ambiguity. The term mise-en-scene starts to show up in film theory at this time. Throughout the rest of the 40s and 50s the impact of Bazin's theories are at the heart of film studies. You can see it in the preferences of the Cahiers critics; Kenji Mizoguchi was favored over Akira Kurosawa for instance or Robert Bresson over the "tradition of quality." Although film theory would continue to change (and particularly with the arrival of the New Wave and Breathless by Bazin disciple Jean-Luc Godard) Citizen Kane still holds a central place in film history and theory. Kane will always represent the crucial shift in attitude.

 

I cringe every time I see something like the AFI list, which I think is responsible for overcooking Kane for a lot of people, because it only places Kane in the context of Hollywood films, most of which are in the classical style. They make note of the technique but never tell the viewers/readers WHY that mattered (it's the same thing with a film like Breathless or Rome, Open City.)

 

It's not important that Citizen Kane be considered the greatest film of all time but we should never forget that it is indeed a great film.

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> {quote:title=JonasEB wrote:}{quote}

> I cringe every time I see something like the AFI list

 

Yeah, I think that's what rubs people the wrong way-there's no point in "listing" films, no better than listing books, or paintings, or any other art form of communication. icon_wall.gif

 

And even these discussion boards are filled with stupid cut & paste posts about "New LIST of the scariest/most disturbing/most uplifting film" OY!

gaah.gif

 

That rant stated, I DO loosely categorize films for the uninitiated simply to guide them. But that's personal opinion, not a published list insinuating some kind of fact.

 

I'll rate films 1-5 stars, meaning if I describe it as a 5 star film, that's where everything has come together perfectly; great story, casting, direction, visual, audio, etc. There's a lot of 2 star films I personally enjoy, simply for silliness, sincerity in trying or even historical value; usually a MST3K or an Ed Wood type of thing. And some films rate higher for kids than adults and visa versa.

 

That said, I definitely rate Citizen Kane in the handful of films that are nearly perfect. The upper echelon of great films that almost anyone can appreciate and enjoy. And knowing the time period & circumstances of it's making make it even more remarkable. But I don't take any backstory in consideration when recommending films to friends.

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To answer your question in a simple statement, yes.

 

*Kane* is definitely the greatest film of the talking era, as it not only broke technical ground, but married those techniques to innovative storytelling, creating a work that places impetus on its viewers instead of a single creators vision.

 

This is not a film for passive viewing. It's also not a one-watch film. Every time we see Kane we find something different about him and discover something also about ourselves. The first couple of scenes are designed to take us out of our comfort zone, where we are hit with three different scenes at the start of the film in a whirlwind fashion, all dealing with a man we have no knowledge or background of. When Thompson the reporter goes calling, we never see his face. We also never meet Kane in real life. We are left with only memories from others who hold their own biased views of what he was like. In short, we are given no one with which to identify. It's up to us to put the puzzle together each time we watch and decide just who Charles Foster Kane is.

 

Depending on insights or the mood in which we see the film, *Kane* can become all kinds of different things to different viewers. Some see him as a spoiled child, some as a master manipulator, others as a pitiful man who never received love, or perhaps how his wealth isolated him from love. Some see him as all these things, others see him as none of them. *Kane* is an open ended book that requires us to fill in the final pages with our own experiences and emotional baggage. Although the film has humor and is enjoyable, it's hard on viewers who are not willing to participate in its game. Many see this as half a film and in a sense they are right--it's what we bring to the film that completes it and makes it personal to us. This is one of the reasons why it's considered one of the greatest films ever made.

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> {quote:title=bklynrose wrote:}{quote}

> My only question is how could he make such a great film like Kane and six years later make a terrible one called The Lady from Shanqhai?????????

> cat

 

 

*Kane* is the only film where Welles had complete control and authority. The rest of his films have been cut, edited, or were taken out of his hands at some point.

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I do not think Orson Welles was the best director. And I don't think CITIZEN KANE was the best film ever made...it's a stand-out effort but it is not the best.

 

With KANE, Welles brings more European filmmaking practices to American audiences. But he has ripped off many European directors, namely the German expressionists. Sometimes when I watch KANE, I feel like it's a laundry list of experiments that Welles was determined to do...that is pastiche...not originality. The film does lack heart. Because of Welles' cartoonish brush strokes, we cannot empathize with any of the characters. What grounds the film for me is Mankiewicz's script...it's basically a film noir that Welles has puffed up into some anti- Saturday Evening Post piece. Only, in this instance, W.R. Hearst is the butt of the joke.

 

Welles does the same thing with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, ruining Tarkington's beautiful story. But more annoying, Welles does not improve upon his own writing. There is a website with many of the old radio dramatizations Welles did with his Mercury group, for the Campbell Playhouse. I listened to the one they did on AMBERSONS, and it's from a year or two before he made the film. It is almost identical. So basically all he did was take a radio script and use an RKO budget and fill in the visuals. He did not really shade in the details more or use cinema to express Tarkington's vision...he was basically trying to express his own idea of a radio show with pictures.

 

Recently I watched TOUCH OF EVIL and it did not hold up well for me. Dietrich's performance did hold up (it was probably the best part of the entire film)...but I got the sense that Welles was having a nervous breakdown, either while making it or editing it...it's very disjointed in parts...it tries to go the drug and rape angle, but because of the production code, it can't...then it tries to go the strangulation and murder route, but again, it can't go all the way with that, at least not on camera, so we have all these unfinished evil thoughts that don't get properly executed. Another problem I have with Welles is that he sets it up so that his character is really the lead, but because of billing, he has to put some of the focus on Heston and Leigh, which he does...but then it's right back to Welles and his ego trip again.

 

He does the same thing with THE STRANGER...making the film not about Young or Robinson's characters, but his own. It's another Orson Welles Production About Orson Welles. At least in TOMORROW IS FOREVER (which he did not direct), the studio (RKO) keeps him in check and the emphasis is evenly divided between Colbert, Brent and Welles.

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> {quote:title=bklynrose wrote:}{quote}

> My only question is how could he make such a great film like Kane and six years later make a terrible one called The Lady from Shanqhai?????????

> cat

 

*The Lady from Shanghai* is a great film, just not as great as some of Welles' films. Of course the mirror scene is the most noted, but there is much else that is great about the film, even if Welles didn't get final cut. My personal quibble is - Rita Hayworth, with short, blonde hair? UGH!

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> {quote:title=ziggyelman wrote:}{quote}

> It's an interesting film, but it's lacking in heart, which in my very subjective way of looking at films, mean's it ain't numbero uno.

 

 

Interesting comment, given that the whole film is about how C. F. Kane had no heart, since it had been ripped out of him when he was separated from his parents. Everything he did after that was a futile attempt to make up for what he had lost, symbolized by his sled, "Rosebud."

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> {quote:title=MyFavoriteFilms wrote:}{quote}

>

> Recently I watched TOUCH OF EVIL and it did not hold up well for me. Dietrich's performance did hold up (it was probably the best part of the entire film)...but I got the sense that Welles was having a nervous breakdown, either while making it or editing it...it's very disjointed in parts...it tries to go the drug and rape angle, but because of the production code, it can't...then it tries to go the strangulation and murder route, but again, it can't go all the way with that, at least not on camera, so we have all these unfinished evil thoughts that don't get properly executed. Another problem I have with Welles is that he sets it up so that his character is really the lead, but because of billing, he has to put some of the focus on Heston and Leigh, which he does...but then it's right back to Welles and his ego trip again.

>

 

Well, you and I have totally different perceptions of this film. I hope you have seen the restored version, based on a 50 page memo Welles wrote. I think it is THE best US film, for many reasons. Kane was an intellectual tour-de-force, but ToE+ is a punch in the gut. Many Welles scholars, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Gary Graver, whom I have met, consider it Welles' best film.

 

I don't agree with any of your conjecture about the production code causing it to be unfinished, and improperly executed. Certainly Welles had an ego, but his character, Hank Quinlan, IS the lead. It was that way in the novel. "Billing" has nothing to do with putting the focus on Heston and Leigh, that is absurd. It couldn't be anything like the film it is, without them playing strong parts.

 

I think all the acting is first rate, and from everything I have read the actors felt good about the film, and their parts in it. Sure, Dietrich's brief performance in the film is good. I think Welles' performance is about his best. But, to me, the stand-out performance is by Joseph Calleia, as Sgt. Menzies, Quinlan's right hand man. That is the performance of a lifetime.

 

Edited by: ValentineXavier on Sep 5, 2010 5:26 PM

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Yes, I have seen the restored version...it is overlong and still disjointed to me. I think Welles was sometimes too ambitious for his own good and his films seem unfinished because they basically are, due to time and budget and his inability to control his own experimentation. He is best when he is reigned in by the studio (RKO and Fox in particular). Even his acting began to suffer because of his excesses...he reached a point where he was considered undirectable and he was dropped from some big films and important roles that went to other people.

 

I am curious to see THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, when or if it ever gets released to the public. But I have a feeling it's another jumble of ideas told in a haphazard, nearly incoherent form.

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